Ending Conversations with the Trauma-Impacted Person

psychologist consulting a woman client in therapy

Today’s blog will wrap up my series of blogs that have focused on ways we can meet the needs of those who have experienced significant trauma. Being highly sensitive to those needs of the trauma-impacted gives both that person and the trauma-sensitive responder opportunities to provide meaningful connections that have the potential to promote degrees of healing. At the very least, these kinds of trauma-sensitive conversations can help the impacted person experience something often unfamiliar: a sense of safety that helps to reduce threat levels and feelings of anxiety.

Blending a combination of trauma-sensitive responses includes:

  • mindfully establishing safety and keeping distance until it seems clear that the trauma-impacted person is receptive to more connection
  • responding verbally and nonverbally with trauma-sensitive active listening and affirming and when the person is in a more thoughtful brain state, to provide information
  • shifting to problem exploration, offering opportunities to consider needs, feelings, beliefs, issues, goals and other aspects of the trauma-impacted person’s life

 At some point in a conversation it becomes clear that it is time to wrap things up and either move on to some other activity or to physically separate. Trauma-responsive individuals need to be highly attuned to the potential dynamics when closing a conversation with a trauma-impacted person. How one ends a conversation can be almost as important and maybe even more so than how one begins it.

Here’s why:  a large percentage of trauma-impacted people suffer from either attachment and/or abandonment issues and even a simple goodbye in a conversation can trigger some of those feelings with thoughts such as: Am I being rejected? Did I fail to meet the other person’s expectations? Did that person discover that I’m basically unworthy of their attention? Were they disappointed in me? The person may want reassurance that they were accepted by the other person.

young woman discussing problems with female psychologist

When closing a conversation with someone with trauma-related issues there should be a transmittal of both verbal and nonverbal messages of appreciation and hope that can promote a strengthening of the relational bridge. Messages of appreciation can be easier for the person to process if they are framed as I-messages:

“It has been a privilege to learn more about you and some of your struggles.”

“Even if you don’t see it in yourself, I see you as having strength and courage that has allowed you to survive and move forward with your life. The fact that you can have these kinds of open conversations can be a source of hope for you. You are capable of learning, growing, changing and ultimately healing. You have the right to claim your power to resolve your trauma-related issues and needs.”

“In the midst of  understanding the battles you have inside, dealing with powerful, toxic inner beliefs, please know that, healing is possible. You deserve that.”

“It has been a privilege to better understand you and some of what you have experienced in life. You have offered me the precious gift of their trust. Thank you.”

Sometimes simply saying, “Thank you for sharing. I appreciate that you shared some of your experiences with me,” is all that is needed to leave that person feeling safe, affirmed and hopeful.

psychologist talking to woman patient at psychotherapy session

The trauma-sensitive responder can pay attention to the nonverbal cues of the trauma-impacted person during the process of ending a conversation. Do they seem receptive to the messages of affirmation, encouragement and hope? Do they look hurt, sad or confused? If so, it can be helpful to gently use active listening and affirmations about what you are observing.

As important as we all know beginnings can be, it is very important to appreciate how sensitive we need to be when closing a conversation with a trauma-impacted person. It is one more way to help meet the needs of this special group of individuals.

Invitation to Reflect

  1. Can you recall a time when ending a conversation with someone was painful to you? Can you analyze what this might’ve been about— was it because you enjoyed being connected with this person or was it something deeper, some kind of feelings of rejection or abandonment? Was it how the ending happened that caused these feelings? If so, what might have helped it be less painful for you?
  2. How can you use the information about being sensitive to end conversations and better meet the needs of any of the trauma-impacted people in your world?
  3. Overall, if you have read and integrated this whole series of blogs on meeting the needs of trauma-impacted people, what have you learned? What can you apply to those around you who might benefit from your being more sensitive to their needs?

Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute